Just like any other art, flower arranging is a little easier to master (or at least get more comfortable with) if you first consider your goals: Do you want an arrangement that's perky and stout, whimsically drapey, or tall and voluminous? The shape and characteristics of the flowers you use, combined with the shape of the vase you choose, is what will turn out different results.
Admittedly, it's not a science—playing with what you have handy, rather than strategizing too much, is how you'll learn to get the results you want. But just in case: Here are three classic vase shapes and which flowers to use with them, to help you achieve all three of the above looks.
Good for a desktop, mantel, or anywhere you need a bit of (tidy) good cheer.
For a manageably-sized and orderly arrangement, start first with a medium-sized vessel that's not too tapered at the top. You'll be clustering in flower stems so they prop themselves upright, and a fist-sized opening is roomy enough to add a handful of stems, but not so roomy that you will have any trouble filling it.
Next, choose just one type of flower (the uniformity will help keep the arrangement tidy) and buy a few bunches of it—preferably something with a smooth, leafless, silky stem. Hyancinth, tulips, daffodils, paperwhites, and other bulbs would all look nice, as would soft, sprightly herbs, nestled together. You'll need enough to pack the opening snugly.
Instead of trimming them all to the exact same height, vary the heights of the stems within about 2 inches. The tallest can go in the middle of the arrangements, the shortest on the outside—which will create a rounded, but slightly less tightly-wound, effect.
Good for casual dinner party, since you can scatter them across the table as desired, or for depositing on empty surfaces all around your house.
Bud vases, or any vessels that have pinky-sized openings at the top, will fit just one flower. Recycled glass bottles, like the ones above, will pinch-hit if you don't have any that are specifically designed this way, and it's just as good an idea to mix some in with classic bud vases (for texture! nuance!) if you're using them in a tabletop arrangement.
We talk a lot about "sculptural" flowers here in our studio, which basically means any flower that holds itself upright and shows off an interesting stem shape while doing it—so less roses, which are starkly straight, and more like a single palm leaf, a sweet berry branch, an alium flower, a leggy ranunculous, a sprig of eucaluptus, etc.
Pull away any excessive leaves from the stems you choose, and drop them in the bud vases. Trim some short and some tall, so there are wide variety of heights. (And mix flowers to your heart's content! This is a good time for a loose variety.)
Good for making an impact, at the entryway when you're throwing a bash or propped up in the quiet space of a living room.
Any large, roomy pitcher (or family-sized pickle jar, or big stone crock) will hold enough flowers to make an impact. And it need not be tapered at the top at all—in fact the lip on a pitcher is often the perfect way to let some stems spill out to the side so it's not so uniform. Just be sure it's not deeper than the opening is wide, which will make it more difficult to arrange stems that stand up enough.
Taller, spraying flowers, like queen anne's lace, thistle, clematis, fluffy fern clippings, ornamental grasses, flowering branches like forsythia, or clippings of honeysuckle will all billow out, but you can pick up any that fit the "wild" bill.
You'll still want to add the flowers a few at a time, in varying heights, but this time the goal is to be sure the whole arrangement is asymmetrical—some of the flowers should lean out to one side (or the other, but not both!). This will keep it from feeling like a bad haircut, and more like a sculpture.
What are your go-to flower arranging vases? Here in the office, we fancy Ball jars just as much as pitchers.
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